Last month, during the Krakow Film Music Festival (Krakow FMF), Gorka Oteiza had the opportunity to interview Brian Tyler for SoundTrackFest, talking about his career, his passion for electronic music, his soundtracks for big blockbusters and his latest work for the movie “The Mummy“.
Here you have the interview! We hope you like it!
Let’s talk first about your beginnings in music. How and when did you start getting into film music world? Is there a moment you remember saying: Wow, this is what I want to do? Did a spark light up? Or was it a gradual process?
That’s a good question! It’s really hard to even remember, because some of the first music I ever listen to were film scores, so I knew film scores they were part of my life. When I started writing music, which also was really early on in my life, I naturally wrote things that kind of were film score-ish, they had a film score vibe to themselves.
When I was young I would write music to books instead of music to movies. I love science fiction and the Frank Herbert novels were some of my favorites, so I wrote a bunch of music early on for “The Children of Dune” and “Dune Messiah” books. I was twelve at that time. So I think writing music was something that came pretty early in my life.
We have seen videos of you on the Internet playing a lot of instruments for some of your soundtracks. How many instruments do you play? Do you have a tendency to use one instrument in particular when composing your soundtracks?
I play dozens of instruments. Some of them are very closely related, so I don’t know if I can count them again, but I play something like 30 or 40 instruments.
So you could record a whole soundtrack by yourself!
(*Laughs*) Sometimes I do! Because that’s how I started. There was no budget and if I didn’t play those instruments, I don’t think I’d got a foot on the door on scoring films. I was able to play ensembles and layer myself, so by the time that I started writing film scores for orchestras, I had been doing films for a while, but playing an instrument for a movie is different.
I don’t think “I need a particular instrument for this movie or that movie”. It just happens that an instrument seems to work best for the narrative and the story, and I use it. I just finished The Mummy and there’re instruments that became part of the sound of the mummy because they seemed to work. I like trying things out and then certain things sound fine and some don’t, it’s an experimentation process. In The Mummy, I have these Egyptian instruments, percussion, all sorts of different instruments… So it depends on the movie, I don’t have a special fixation with an instrument.
I saw your video for the movie “Brake”, when you recorded the sounds of the car and used them in the soundtrack….
Yes! That was special as it was a movie score with just me playing all the instruments, and I thought, why not try a car? In fact the owner of that car is with us in the festival, he’s part of my team.
As you know, during Krakow Film Music Festival there’re masterclasses and panels for fans and young composers, who want to make a living composing soundtracks. From your experience, what advice can you give to them?
Part of what’s really important is to work on your craft, make yourself musically. You have to listen and learn as many different kinds of music as possible. And it’s very important to really know film; to know how a film is edited, how cameras work, how lighting is done, learn how to write a screenplay, maybe do some acting, get as much information as you can from that world. It’s very helpful to know how everything works from a different perspective when you’re composing.
One year ago, May 7th, 2016, just before your birthday, you had your first big concert in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra, that has recorded many of your soundtracks. How was the experience? Are you planning to repeat it again soon?
First, it was amazing and second, yeah, definitely I’m going to do it again! It’s a way to experience music in a different scenario and I love it. There’re some possible dates in my mind, but nothing fixed yet.
Now changing subject a little bit… You have a passion for electronic music. That passion can be felt on some of the frenetic tunes and rhythms you put into your scores. You started your adventure as Madsonik in 2014. Maybe it is your lesser known side for Film Music Fans. What can you tell us about it?
It’s a way to have a different avenue of making music, writing music and producing it, and also doing live shows. I’ve actually done more live concerts as Madsonik than as Brian Tyler! (*laughs*).
In that world, it’s just a different side of me that I like. You’re writing music that’s not following the picture, so I’m free to do whatever I want. There’re really no borders. But starting Madsonik was also a way to distinguish me being a composer from being an electronic artist, instead of using my name for everything. People ask me often why do I have a different name, and that’s to avoid confusions. For example, on a movie like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where I’ve written the song “Shell Shocked” as Madsonik with Wiz Khalifa, Kill the Noise, Ty Dolla Sign, Juicy J and Moxie but then I’ve also done the score. If I use the same name, it makes it seem that the song is part of the score, so I wanted to distinguish it, and that’s how the Madsonik name came about. I really wasn’t aiming for anything, it was just a kind of a “fun thing” to do but then it started growing and growing. “Shell Shocked” for instance went gold, and that led to touring and that led to other things.
Does the name Madsonik take something from your character?
Right! It does! (*laughs*) It’s “Mad” like crazy and “sonik” for sound. Simple and effective.
Giorgio Moroder is going to DJ during the Krakow FMF in an open air free to the public party called “DANCE2CINEMA: Midnight Express Party with Giorgio Moroder”. Would you like to DJ with Giorgio?
I’d love that! Just in case I brought my material! (*laughs*) I could plug it in and I could do it! That’d be fun, I’d love it!
That’s fantastic!! I hope it’s possible!! Going back to scoring, you have composed more than 100 soundtracks, for TV, movies, videogames… Is there something you want to do but you still didn’t have the opportunity to?
I think every project is unique. It’s a lot of fun to do different things; comedy, romantic movies, historical drama… I have done all these things, but at the same time, it would be great to just continue to move around and do different things. There’s not a particular project I can think of I’d like to do right now.
Is there any particular director you’d like to work with?
Sure, there’re tons! I cannot name them now! I’ve worked with Steven Spielberg as a producer in a couple of projects, and I’m sure it would be amazing as a director. Anyway, the list is too long to name them now!
Your name seems to be tied to many blockbuster movies, Fast and Furious, Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor & Avengers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers lately. Is that a genre you feel more comfortable with?
I think it was just the other way around it. I was writing music and then the blockbusters kind of happened around me. If you really think about it, about how I started, it was with The Fast and the Furious: Tokio Drift, a small film, and then it just grew and grew and grew. Later the Marvel films arrived, so I think the blockbusters came to me. I don’t treat any films differently. In every film I do as good as I can for the film, and the fact that the films happened to do really well and became well-known worldwide is great! I never wake up in the morning and think “umm… I’m going to write some music for a big blockbuster”, you know what I mean? It just happened.
But you entered the Marvel universe with Iron Man 3 and then jumped to Thor 2, Avengers 2, even Marvel Studios Logo…. So things went one after another…
That’s true and there happens to be quite a few superhero movies around me, also like TNMT and Power Rangers, but now I’m kind of going back to my roots with The Mummy. I started with films like Frailty, Darkness Falls, and other films with horror element. I haven’t done a horror film a long time, so being in The Mummy is pretty fun.
The movie “The Mummy” with your music is premiering soon. What can you tell us about this project? What can we expect to find there?
It’s a brand new storyline and in a certain way goes back to 1932 Boris Karloff’s The Mummy but in today’s environment. It’s filmed all over the world; there’re parts of the movie that take place in Egypt, Iraq, modern day England, and deals with a world of monsters that’s out there, just beyond the mummy. That’s where Dr Jekyll comes in, played by Russel Crowe. It’s a very interesting world; it’s scary, funny, epic, so the music it’s going in that way. The theme is actually kind of romantic. There’s a feel of romance in a sense of artistic approach, old film-school approach. In fact, even if we’re now in the world of digital movies, the movie was shot on actual film.
So you have composed an old school soundtrack, with a thematic and melodic base?
The soundtrack is very melodic. It has the biggest amount of individual themes I’ve ever written for one movie (like seven themes). And all of them interconnect with a classic kind of approach to the score.
What are we going to enjoy in this Saturday’s concert during the FMF 10th Anniversary Gala?
There’s going to be a lot of music. It’s going to be really big, with some of my Marvel music, some Fast and Furious, Power Rangers, Assassin’s Creed – Black Flag video game music with a new arrangement that’s going to be fun, a premiere of The Mummy, and TMNT… so yes! There’s going to be a lot of music. And we’re going to have a 60 person choir for some of the pieces, so it’s going to be great!
And now to finish, from all the works you have done, do you have special memories of any of them particularly? Any score you’d like to rescue for your fans?
I think that if people go back through the catalogue looking for something they might have missed, I’d say Partition (2007). The sound is different from other soundtracks I’ve done, and that’s the one that’s most connected to The Mummy, by the way. There’s romanticism, melody, and various themes… so you don’t want to miss it!
Well Brian, that’s all. Thank you very much for your time. We wish you a very good time in Krakow, and I’m sure we will enjoy your music this Saturday. Thanks in the name of all your Spanish fans! And also in the name of your fans all around the world, of course!
Thanks to you for spreading the word on film music!